Category Archives: Children’s books

Deep in the Sahara

Deep in the Sahara, by Kelly Cunnane and illustrated by Hoda Hadadi, is the story of a young Mauritanian girl named Lalla. She desperately wants to wear a malafa like her mother, her older sister, and her grandmother. But a malafa is not to be worn until a young girl understands why they are worn.

from the publisher:

Lalla lives in the Muslim country of Mauritania, and more than anything, she wants to wear a malafa, the colorful cloth Mauritanian women, like her mama and big sister, wear to cover their heads and clothes in public. But it is not until Lalla realizes that a malafa is not just worn to show a woman’s beauty and mystery or to honor tradition—a malafa for faith—that Lalla’s mother agrees to slip a long cloth as blue as the ink in the Koran over Lalla’s head, under her arm, and round and round her body. Then together, they pray.

This was such a sweet and interesting story with beautiful illustrations. I didn’t know much about Mauritania, except that it is a West African nation. And I didn’t know much about the practice of Islam there, or the customs of dress, so this was an interesting learning for me. It would be a wonderful addition to a class library or a family’s collection of books on diversity and world cultures. Here is a photo of the author’s notes on writing this story, which I thought were as interesting as the book itself! (Click on the photo to enlarge it.)

 

I chose this book to read for my personal challenge, “Wanderlust,” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each country of the world. This was a story from Mauritania.

My Anti-Racist Education

I am a Learner. That’s why I became a teacher (and also because I loved spending my days in the hopeful and inspiring world of young people). So in trying to deal with the horrific events of the last few weeks, I realized that I have so much to learn. So I am beginning an important undertaking:  I am now focusing on educating myself on how to become Anti-Racist.

“In a racist society it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.”
Angela Y. Davis

“The opposite of racist isn’t ‘not racist.’ It is ‘anti-racist.’ What’s the difference? One endorses either the idea of a racial hierarchy as a racist, or racial equality as an anti-racist. One either believes problems are rooted in groups of people, as a racist, or locates the roots of problems in power and policies, as an anti-racist. One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an anti-racist. There is no in-between safe space of ‘not racist.”
Ibram X. Kendi, How to Be an Antiracist

And one of the most hopeful things I’ve discovered in making this commitment to become anti-racist is that so many other people are doing the same thing! I took the photo above just this morning when I got on the library website to look for some e-books to add to my growing list of books to read on this subject. Every. single. book. has a waiting list of weeks and weeks! My heart soared with HOPE to see that there are so many other Learners out there!

On this page, I will keep a list with links to my reviews of books and other resources that I’ve found and appreciated, so please come back here occasionally to see this self-education journey.

BOOKS READ AND REVIEWED:

  1. Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston
  2. Dream Big Dreams: Photographs from Barack Obama’s Inspiring and Historical Presidency, by Pete Souza
  3. They Call Us Enemy, by George Takei
  4. Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race, by Reni Eddo-Lodge
  5. We Should All Be Feminists, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  6. Dear Ijeawele: or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  7. Becoming, by Michelle Obama

READ BUT NOT REVIEWED (yet):

  • Born a Crime, by Trevor Noah
  • The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
  • Barracoon, by Zora Neale Hurston
  • Beloved, Toni Morrison
  • Kindred, by Octavia Butler

CHILDREN’S BOOKS ABOUT THE BLACK EXPERIENCE AND DIVERSITY:


PODCASTS
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Ada’s Violin

Ada’s Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay, by Susan Hood and illustrated by Sally Wern Comport, is a true story told in picture book form. It’s a very heartwarming story about the power of music and creativity to bring hope to the slums of Paraguay.

from the publisher:

Ada Ríos grew up in Cateura, a small town in Paraguay built on a landfill. She dreamed of playing the violin, but with little money for anything but the bare essentials, it was never an option…until a music teacher named Favio Chávez arrived. He wanted to give the children of Cateura something special, so he made them instruments out of materials found in the trash. It was a crazy idea, but one that would leave Ada—and her town—forever changed. Now, the Recycled Orchestra plays venues around the world, spreading their message of hope and innovation.

It’s so nice to find a story of inspiration and hope. Ada’s dreams of playing the violin were fulfilled beyond her imagination, thanks to the work of Favio Chávez. Here are some links to more information on both Mr. Chávez and the Recycled Orchestra.

Click here to see a live performance on YouTube of the Recycled Orchestra.

Click here to see an NPR report on the Recycled Orchestra.


I chose this book to read for my personal challenge, “Wanderlust,” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each country of the world. This was a book based on a true story from Paraguay.

Pippi Longstocking

Pippi Longstocking, by Astrid Lindgren, has long been on my list of books to read because I didn’t read it as a child, although that little girl with red hair and strange braids was always in the periphery somewhere. But I thought since she is just a little bit older than me, she is 75 years old this year, (to my 71 years), that I should celebrate by finally reading the book.

It is a beloved book worldwide, but I didn’t fall in love with it. I mostly enjoyed it, and could certainly see why it would appeal to many people young and old…and I admired the strength of this nine-year old girl and her goodhearted but quirky nature. But I felt like I was missing some of the cultural context of the book…things that might be more humorous and/or meaningful in the original language and culture. (Or maybe it was just that my sense of humor has been quarantined a little too long this spring?)  She was not a boring character, and she had spunk! I think she actually might just be the quintessential spunky character.

from the publisher:

Pippi is an irrepressible, irreverent, and irrefutably delightful girl who lives alone (with a monkey) in her wacky house, Villa Villekulla. When she’s not dancing with the burglars who were just trying to rob her house, she’s attempting to learn the “pluttification” tables at school; fighting Adolf, the strongest man in the world at the circus; or playing tag with police officers. Pippi’s high-spirited, good-natured hijinks cause as much trouble as fun, but a more generous child you won’t find anywhere.

Astrid Lindgren has created a unique and lovable character, inspiring generations of children to want to be Pippi. More than anything, Pippi makes reading a pleasure; no child will welcome the end of the book, and many will return to Pippi Longstocking again and again. Simply put, Pippi is irresistible.

So the book experience for me was okay, but I was much more interested in the author, Astrid Lindgren, who appealed more to me than the character she created. She was a humanist and committed advocate for children and animal rights, and through her writings and advocacy work, she was able to help bring changes into law that prohibited violence against children (she was very much against corporal punishment) and promoted animal rights. You can read more about her work here on her website.

I’m sorry to all of you who grew up absolutely loving Pippi. Perhaps I should reread it at some point down the road to see if it was just my state of mind right now, or if the book just wasn’t quite my cup of tea.

 

I chose to read this book as one of my 50-books-in-5-years for The Classics Club.

The Twenty-One Balloons

I recently re-read a beloved book from my childhood. The Twenty-One Balloons, by William Pene Du Bois, was another book read by my big brother, Curt, and since I often followed in his reading footsteps, I then read it, too. This book won the Newbery Award in 1948, and is a fanciful, fun book.

from the publisher:

Professor William Waterman Sherman intends to fly across the Pacific Ocean. But through a twist of fate, he lands on the secret island of Krakatoa where he discovers a world of unimaginable wealth, eccentric inhabitants, and incredible balloon inventions.

from the book:

“The best way of travel, however, if you aren’t in any hurry at all, if you don’t care where you are going, if you don’t like to use your legs, if you don’t want to be annoyed at all by any choice of directions, is in a balloon. In a balloon, you can decide only when to start, and usually when to stop. The rest is left entirely to nature.”

I wonder how kids these days would like this little book? I remember when I read it long ago, that I enjoyed the inventions and the humor, the adventure and the calamities. This time reading it, I chuckled all the way through it. A delightful entertainment!

 

I read this book for my personal challenge, “Wanderlust,” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each country of the world. Although fiction, it takes place on the island of Krakatoa in Indonesia.

Ballet Shoes

photos above are from the ballet book I adored as a child…

It’s never too late to catch up with books you missed reading as a child!  Ballet Shoes, by Noel Streatfeild, is the first book in another series I missed reading when I was growing up. I don’t know how that happened, as I loved ballet and would have loved this book! But I’m glad I filled in that gap by reading it while I was sick in bed this month. It was fun and interesting, and a great way to take one’s mind off a cough and a cold.

from the publisher:

Pauline, Petrova, and Posy love their quiet life together. They are orphans who have been raised as sisters, and when their new family needs money, the girls want to help. They decide to join the Children’s Academy of Dancing and Stage Training to earn their keep. Each girl works hard following her dream. Pauline is destined for the movies. Posy is a born dancer. And Petrova? She finds she’d rather be a pilot than perform a pirouette.

Stepping Stones

During this week of unspeakable horror in Syria, I found a little book at the library that shone with beauty and hope. Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey, written by Margriet Ruurs and with illustrations created by Nizar Ali Badr, is a honest and poignant story of a Syrian family’s experience of having to leave their beloved home and country and flee for their lives. Fortunately, they find open arms and help in a new country. This book would be a wonderful teaching tool for families and classrooms to help all understand the refugee crisis worldwide. It also gives information about how one can give help during this humanitarian crisis.

from the publisher, Orca Book Publishers:

This unique picture book was inspired by the stone artwork of Syrian artist Nizar Ali Badr, discovered by chance by Canadian children’s writer Margriet Ruurs. The author was immediately impressed by the strong narrative quality of Mr. Badr’s work, and, using many of Mr. Badr’s already-created pieces, she set out to create a story about the Syrian refugee crisis. Stepping Stones tells the story of Rama and her family, who are forced to flee their once-peaceful village to escape the ravages of the civil war raging ever closer to their home. With only what they can carry on their backs, Rama and her mother, father, grandfather and brother, Sami, set out to walk to freedom in Europe. Nizar Ali Badr’s stunning stone images illustrate the story.

from Social Justice Books:

This bilingual children’s picture book (English and Arabic) is worth reading for the illustrations alone. The three dimensional characters, made from beach stone by Syrian artist Nizar Ali Badr, are so expressive and exquisite that they tell a story of their own. Badr conveys the plight of refugees, although he himself has never left Syria. He explains, “How could I leave the country that gave to humanity the world’s oldest writing, the cuneiform alphabet?”

What can you do to make a difference?

 

I chose this book to read for my personal challenge, “Wanderlust,” my effort to read books that are from or take place in each country of the world. This was a book about life in Syria.

The Librarian of Basra

The Librarian of Basra: A True Story From Iraq, by Jeanette Winter, is a picture book for children that is equally interesting to adults.

…from the Publisher:

“In the Koran, the first thing God said to Muhammad was ‘Read.'”*
~ Alia Muhammad Baker

Alia Muhammad Baker is the librarian of Basra. For fourteen years, her office has been a meeting place for those who love books–until now. Now war has come, and Alia fears the library will be destroyed. She asks government officials for help, but they refuse. So Alia takes matters into her own hands, working secretly with friends to move the thirty-thousand new and ancient books from the library and hide them in their homes. There, the books are stacked in windows and cupboards and even in an old refrigerator. But they are safe until the war moves on–safe with the librarian of Basra.

This moving true story about a real librarian’s brave struggle to save her war-stricken community’s priceless collection of books is a powerful reminder that the love of literature and the passion for knowledge know no boundaries.

 Jeanette Winter, brings us many of these inspirational stories from around the world in picturebook format. I love the idea of introducing children, through these books, to these everyday yet truly inspiring heroes. For me, they pique my curiosity about people I’d never heard of and I find myself pursuing more information and searching for more books about them!

 

I chose this book to read for my personal challenge, “Wanderlust,” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each country of the world. This was a book that takes place in Iraq.

 

Water Buffalo Days

Water Buffalo Days: Growing Up in Vietnam, by Huynh Quang Nhuong,  is a book of memories of a young boy growing up in Vietnam before the war. The memoir was written for children in the middle grades, but tells such poignant stories that there is definitely no age limit on it. I was quite fascinated with learning about the culture this little boy grew up in, and also learning so much about water buffaloes.

…from the Introduction to the book:

I was born in the central highlands of Vietnam in a small hamlet on a riverbank that had a deep jungle on one side and a chain of high mountains on the other. Across the river, rice fields stretched to the slopes of another chain of mountains…

…Like all farmers’ children in the hamlet, I started working at the age of six. I helped look after the family herd of water buffaloes.

…Animals played a very large part in our lives. Many wild animals were to be feared. Tigers and panthers were dangerous and always trying to steal cattle. But a lone wild hog was even more dangerous than a tiger. The hog attacked every creature in sight, even when he had no need for food. The river held a different danger: crocodiles. Other animals provided food, labor, and often friendship. Watchdogs and water buffaloes were like members of our family.

…I always planned to return to my hamlet to live the rest of my life there. But war disrupted my dreams. The land I love was lost to me forever. These are my memories…

Those memories are told beautifully and are quite remarkable. Although this young boy started working with the family’s water buffalo at age six, it was his ten-year-old brother who trained the animal. The training was fascinating, and I had no idea that water buffalo could be so intelligent, patient, and gentle. This water buffalo also became the main bull in the village and was a fierce protector of the people and the village animals.

It was so interesting to see how the villagers worked together and interacted. And I loved the stories of this boy’s daily life, hopes and dreams, and his deep friendship with the family’s water buffalo.

Although, this is not included in this book, the background on Huynh Quang Nhuong is very interesting but sad. The Vietnam War interrupted all his hopes and dreams. During the war, he was shot and permanently paralyzed. He was sent to the U.S. for treatment and never returned to his home village. The war changed all of that for him.

I chose this book to read for my personal challenge, “Wanderlust,” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each country of the world. This was a memoir of a boy growing up in Vietnam.